Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981 is a touchstone in cinema. It is the brainchild of the two cinematic visionaries: director Steven Spielberg and writer George Lucas. Prior to its release, they had introduced audiences around the world to the concept of the summer blockbuster with Spielbergs’ Jaws in 1975 and Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977.
Like those two films, Raiders is a frivolous, lighthearted and fun take on its genre compared its dark, socially conscious contemporaries. Raiders is mostly concerned with the nostalgia of postwar old adventure series, romantic Westerns and the James Bond films – media which Spielberg and Lucas grew up with. In many ways it is the arbiter for the popcorn action film, heavy on testosterone and low on narrative, which defined the action films of the 1980s.
Like its inspirational sources The Indiana Jones-series follows the continuing adventures of archeologist, professor and spelunker Indiana Jones with each film being a closed off episode with its own set of supporting characters, villains and treasure. As the title suggests, the first film concerns Indy racing those darn Nazis to the titular lost ark before they use it as a weapon for world domination.
The film is laser-focused on its iconic action set pieces and fun characters. The narrative is of very little importance which is perfectly exemplified by its opening. After Indiana Jones has traversed pitfalls, retracting stakes, and a huge, rolling boulder, he finds himself outwitted by his nemesis, Belloq, and must give up his collected treasure. This particular treasure, a golden idol of some sort, is never brought up again. It is a sequence, which only exists to introduce the main character, Indiana, and set the stage for his rambunctious adventures.
Spielberg shows an command behind the camera as the opening of the film fades from the Paramount logo to an actual mountain and doesn’t show Indy’s face before it is absolutely necessary, keeping the audience in suspense. Every technical aspect of the film, from the stunt work, cinematography, editing and musical score is stellar yet looks so effortlessly pulled off.
The cue-the-grace of this effort is Indy throwing himself from a jeep to a truck loaded with Nazis and his prized ark, overtaking the driver’s seat only to be thrown out of the front window by an attacking soldier. He then skates under the bottom of the truck – an homage to the classic western Stagecoach – and ends up throwing the aforementioned Nazi soldier out of the same window. All of it looks life-threatening, because the stunts are real, yet Indy makes it all fun and engaging, quipping away and smiling wryly as he does it.
The actor behind the character, Harrison Ford, is a big reason why the film works as well as it does. Ford understands perfectly to embody the flawed modern hero we now know all too well. He is gifted with almost supernatural talents for acrobatics and does all of it with an infectious smile, letting us know just how much he enjoys all of it. Yet he is still flawed, is allowed to face tragedy and failure – and let’s be frank – is more than a bit of an asshole. When we first meet Marion, an old ex of his, the two former lovers do not embrace each other, but Indy is instead met with a punch to the face. Well deserved, we must assume.
Indiana Jones is of course not the only memorable character. Marion herself, while a bit of a woman-scorned archetype, is allowed to have the same depth of emotion and motivation as her male counterparts. More importantly though, she is capable of drinking and throwing punches with the meanest sons of bitches in the film while still being able to rock a traditional dress.
The villains are equally great in particular the sniveling Josef Mengele-type, Major Arnold Toht, whose sadistic tendencies makes for a great personification of the inhuman and gruesome Third Reich. Belloq too is a great counterpart to Indy and while they have chokingly few scenes together, their cat-and-mouse antics as they both curse out each others’ names every time something goes awry are highly entertaining.
Not every element has aged as well as the others however. Specifically there are an uncomfortable amount of white actors in brown-face. It’s rather baffling why they needed Alfred Molina to play Indy’s conniving, South American helper or what on earth anyone was thinking, casting John Rhys-Davis as an Egyptian.
Speaking of racism; in the hit TV-show The Big Bang Theory there is a joke about how The Raiders of the Lost Ark, has and I quote, “a glaring story problem because Indiana Jones himself isn’t needed for any of the events in the film to happen.” Now while I’m certain Chuck Lorre and his pack of monkeys was very proud of themselves coming up with this observation, it also misses the point of the film by about a million miles because the point of Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t the ark itself. The ark is a McGuffin, a vaguely defined item of huge import, which propels the action forward, but has no purpose outside of being a narrative device.
We watch Raiders of the Lost Ark not because of the ark, but because of the characters, because of the action and because of its timelessness, despite the brown-faces. We watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, because god damn it, we love it. And now you know why everyone else loves it, and why I know you love it.
史提芬•史匹堡在1981年制作的《法櫃奇兵》（下稱《法》）是電影界的試金石 – 它是兩位電影界鉅子導演史提芬•史匹堡和作家佐治•盧卡斯的腦力之作。在這部電影發行之先，二人已經是夏天票房保證——分别是1975年的《大白鯊》和1977年的《星球大戰》。
對比其他描述社會上各種黑暗的主題來說，《法》是一套像上述兩套電影一般感覺輕浮和充滿玩味的電影。它聚焦於兩位鉅子的成長背景 – 充满戰後冒險、西部浪漫和占士邦電影情懷。從很多方面來說，《法》都是一套應該用爆米花配襯的動作電影，濃重的男性荷爾蒙和既輕且薄的故事敘述都实在地定義了這是一部八十年代的動作電影。
電影以多套動作戲和有趣的角色為主打，而故事則是少之又少 – 從電影開頭可見一斑。當鍾斯跨過無數陷阱和一塊巨大滾石，並發現自己被死敵貝洛克智勝之後，便放棄了他找到的寶藏 – 這個寶藏（一個金像似的東西）從此沒有再出現過。這是一個固有的電影次序，旨在介紹主角鍾斯和為他鋪設吵鬧的冒險舞台。
為了給觀眾留下懸念，史匹堡在鏡頭後有著堅定不移的信念 – 如非必要的時候，絕對不讓鍾斯露面！比方說在電影的開頭，當派拉蒙電影的商標漸退到真正的山谷出現時，鍾斯都沒有出現。電影里所有技術包括特技替身、攝影、剪接和音樂雖然都舉足輕重，卻在電影裡都被輕輕帶過。
演繹鍾斯的演員夏理遜•福特也是電影成功的原因之一。福特完全明白並完美地演活一個具有缺憾的現代英雄。他以具感染力的笑容和異能一般的雜技讓觀眾看得出他有多享受這個角色。不過他還是有缺憾的，也就是說這個角色容許自己存在悲劇和錯誤，我們甚至可以說他其實是一個負心漢。當我們第一次見到鍾斯的前度瑪麗安的時候，他們二人並不是互相問好而是以拳頭招呼 – 我們必須認為鍾斯是一個負心漢了。除了印第安納鍾斯之外，瑪麗安本人也是一個狠角色。除了喜歡輕蔑別人之外，她亦同樣擁有非常濃重的情緒表現，一如鍾斯。更重要的是，她不只是可以喝酒揮拳的潑婦，更是可以穿著古典長裙的淑女。
在電影中，壞人亦同樣出彩，尤其是哭哭啼啼的杜阿諾上校 – 他的虐待狂性質充分的將無人性又殘暴的第三帝國從這個人身上折射出來；而作為鍾斯的死敵，貝洛克也同樣出色。當他和鍾斯互相較勁，大吼對方名字的時候，表現出來的情景莫名的具有娛樂性。
我們欣賞《法》的時候並不是因為那個「法櫃」，而是因為那些角色、動作和它永恆的時間性（雖然有些棕臉白人）。我們喜歡《法》的原因很簡單：因為我們喜歡它，而你現在也應該知道為什麼人人都喜歡《法櫃奇兵》 – 我知道你也喜歡的。